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World News

April 10, 2014

Putin warns Europe about Ukraine gas debt

MOSCOW — Dragging much of Europe into his fight with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged European leaders Thursday to quickly help Ukraine settle its gas debt to Russia to prevent an imminent shutdown of Russian natural gas supplies to the continent.

Putin's letter to 18 leaders, released Thursday by the Kremlin, is part of Russia's efforts to retain control over its struggling neighbor, which is teetering on the verge of financial ruin and is facing a pro-Russian separatist mutiny in the east.

A large Russian military buildup alongside the Ukrainian border has also raised fears that the Kremlin could use the tensions in eastern Ukraine as a pretext to invade, following Moscow's annexation of Crimea last month.

Putin's move raises the specter of a new gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine that could affect much of Europe. In 2009, Moscow turned off supplies to Kiev, leading to the shutdown of Russian gas moving across Ukrainian pipelines to other European countries.

The amount that Putin claims Ukraine owes is growing by billions every day. In the letter, Putin said Ukraine owes Russia $17 billion in gas discounts and potentially another $18.4 billion incurred by Ukraine as a minimal take-or-pay fine under their 2009 gas contract.

He added, on top of that $35.4 billion, Russia also holds $3 billion in Ukrainian government bonds.

The amount is far greater than the estimated $14 billion bailout that the International Monetary Fund is considering for Ukraine.

Putin warned that Ukraine's mounting debt is forcing Moscow to demand advance payments for further gas supplies. He warned that if Ukraine failed to make such payments, Russia's state-controlled gas giant Gazprom will "completely or partially cease gas deliveries."

Putin told the leaders that a possible shutdown of Russian gas supplies will increase the risk of Ukraine siphoning off gas that intended for Europe and will make it difficult to accumulate sufficient reserves for next winter. He urged quick talks between Russia and European consumers of Russian gas to prevent a looming shutdown of supplies.

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